So let’s say you own all the Better Burger franchises in Anytown, USA. And you also control the town zoning department.
So along comes Bigger Burgers, asking for permission to open some restaurants.
Are you going to say, “Sure, there’s an empty lot next to my downtown franchise!’’
After much public soul searching, you will turn Bigger Burgers down, arguing that Anytown already has access to the finest beef byproducts.
Better Burger will simply steal customers, deplete revenues and increase costs. This hardly is in the public interest. Of course, what you don’t say is that the lack of competition allows you to get away with serving cold burgers and greasy fries on occasion. But hey, quality control upsets the union. And the kids are eating it aren’t they?
Now consider school boards tasked with approving charter schools.
Charters are competitors. They steal customers, deplete revenues and increase costs. When charters siphon off kids, they not only take the money that comes with them, they often cause nearby schools to operate under capacity. This increases inefficiencies and per-student costs because all that empty space still must be maintained.
As charters continue to expand, they will force districts to make more and more tough choices on personnel, closing schools and redrawing attendance boundaries, both political poisons. We are seeing this play out in spectacular fashion in some older urban areas.
So there is a serious conflict of interest in play and it only will get worse as school choice expands.
To manage this conflict, states like Florida have guidelines for districts to follow in approving charters, and an appellate process to the State Board of Education for charters that are turned down.
This is not ideal in the long run.
I think Tennessee is headed in a better direction. It is contemplating an independent board to approve charters. This follows the recent denial of charter school applications based solely on protecting the turf of existing public schools.
The school districts are fighting this idea, arguing for local control of public education.
Of course they would like to pick and choose the location of charters to fit within the framework of their existing schools, giving them control of where choice and competition occurs. This pretty much negates the concept. History is not on their side as the free market plays a growing role in education and successful charters open up franchises in other states.
Two years ago, my kid’s name got picked out of the hat for the best charter school in the region. I kept her in the neighborhood public school because it sold me on quality and had a heck of a band director.
Long term, the future of public schools will depend not on blocking competition, but winning the competition.
About the author
Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet
Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org